You are one of a kind. Unique. No one else can do what what you’re meant to do. Live your destiny.
Marimba was tired. They had traveled a long way and the hour was late. She looked at Josak wearily and sighed. “How much farther?”
He stopped and turned to look at her. It was clear to see that the cub would be born any day. Smiling patiently, he answered, “Not much. Are you very tired?”
She nodded. “I’m ever so weary. Can we rest for just a moment?”
Times in the jungle had been very hard. Shaekhan, descendant of a long line of liars and thieves, was currently on the throne as king. Chaos reigned, as it had since his ancestor had usurped the throne. Water was scarce, the herds frightened and food in short supply. Many of the young were sickly and the herds, instead of working together as they had always done, were fighting among themselves and at war with each other.
Now, unknown to Shaekhan, Marimba carried the rightful heir to the throne. Josak, although not the cub’s father, had taken Marimba as his mate and agreed to protect her and raise the cub to adulthood. To keep the cub and its mother safe, Josak had decided to take them to his homeland. They were on their way there now.
“We need to move on. I want to get there before morning,” Josak urged.
Marimba nodded and slowly started on.
The moon was high and the air cold as they came to a cave on the plain. In the clear sky, the stars shone brightly overhead, illuminating the area and magnifying the stillness.
“Here we are.” Josak announced. “Wait here and I’ll take a look around.” He disappeared inside but was back in just a few moments. “Everything looks okay. Let’s get some rest.”
“Oh, dear,” gasped Marimba.
“What is it? Do you see something?”
Marimba shook her head. “I don’t think we’ll be resting for a while.”
Josak looked puzzled. “Why?”
“It’s time for the cub to be born.”
Outside the cave, Josak paced. Marimba had made it very clear that she could handle this and his presence was unnecessary. Still, he was concerned and nervous. Being a father was a very serious thing.
“Josak,” Marimba called.
“What? What? Is everything all right?” He hurried inside.
Marimba smiled, “everything’s’ fine.”
Cuddled beside her, sleeping soundly was single lion cub. His nose was pink, his eyes shut tightly, and his fur a beautiful, golden brown. However, between his ears was a tuft of hair, distinctly, undeniably, curly hair.
“Huh?” Josak raised his eyebrows, puzzled.
“We knew this cub was special. He will save us all. It’s his destiny.”
“I know this is true. But his mane…”
“It’s not ours to say.”
Josak nodded. “What’s his name?”
Time passed quickly. Now, as you know, most lions’ manes grow long and full — and straight. Not Imanu. His grew fuller — and curlier — by the day.
“Do you think I’m funny looking?” Imanu asked his mother.
“Certainly not. You are the most distinguished lion cub I have ever seen. My darling, you are special.”
“You are going to do something great. It’s your destiny.”
“The plan and purpose for your life. You were made different on purpose.”
One day when Imanu was wandering in the jungle, he came upon some cubs playing. They were laughing, pouncing on one another and rolling in the brush. It looked like so much fun.
“Hey, can I play?” Imanu asked.
The cubs stopped. Looking at Imanu, their eyes grew wide. Their jaws fell open and they stared.
“Who are you?” They asked.
“My name is Imanu.”
“What are you?”
“I’m a lion.”
“I’ve never seen a curly-headed lion!” One shrieked.
“I’m special. It’s my destiny,” Imanu explained.
“You think you’re more special than we are?”
“Who do you think you are?”
“I’m going to be king.”
Now they laughed even louder.
“Does Shaekhan know about this?”
“The only thing you’re going to be king of is a brush heap. You curly-headed freak!”
As they ran away laughing, Imanu stood wondering. Why were they so unkind? Why wouldn’t they play with him? Could the things they said be true?
“What’s troubling you. My son?” Marimba asked.
“I met some cubs today?” Imanu answered.
“They called me names.”
“What kind of names?”
“They said I was a freak. They said the only thing I would ever be king of is a brush heap. Who is Shaekhan?”
“Come here, my son.”
“Sit beside me. I want to tell you a story.”
He cuddled up beside his mother.
“A long, long time ago, there was a great king who ruled the jungle.”
“You mean Shaekhan.”
Marimba smiled patiently and stroked his head. “No, dear, not Shaekhan.”
“His name was Adani and his queen was Evya. Adani loved Evya very much.”
“You mean like Josak and you?”
“Yes, much like Josak and me. Now the story…”
Imanu grinned sheepishly.
“When they ruled, the jungle was perfect. The trees and plants were lush and green. There was plenty of water and all the herds worked together to maintain the harmony of all.”
Imanu’s eyes grew wide. “Really? You mean there was no water hunting?”
Marimba shook her head. “We didn’t hunt for food or water. And nobody fought.”
“Wow! That must have been really great!”
“What happened to the king?”
“The great ancestor of Shaekhan, Leukhan was his name, devised a plan. You see, he was jealous of the king and queen because he wanted to be king. So he came to the queen by night and tricked her.”
“Tricked her? How?”
“He told her that if she would eat of the tree at the heart of the jungle, she would be the fairest and wisest of all the lionesses.”
“Was that true?”
“She was already the fairest and wisest, but she was fooled. So she followed Leukhan to the center of the jungle. When Adani found out, he went after them. He found them just as Evya had eaten the fruit.”
“What did he do?”
“Well, when Evya ate the fruit, she became mad and blind. Adani couldn’t bear to see his beloved queen that way, so he ate the fruit also and became mad and blind. Leukhan killed them both and took over the kingdom. His sons have ruled ever since. Shaekhan is one of them.”
“If Shaekhan is king, why do you say that I will be king?”
“Because, my son, you are of the tribe of Adani. He is my great ancestor.”
“But how will I be king?”
“It is your destiny. I cannot tell you how you will be king. It is up to you to walk the path prepared for you. You will know the way.”
“How? How will I know the way?”
“It’s up to you to discover. Josak and I have been given the awesome task of teaching you, which we have done. The rest, my son, is up to you.”
Imanu was quiet.
“I must go now. It‘s time for dinner.”
As she bounded off into the jungle, Imanu sat alone. So much to think about. Josak and Marimba had always told him he was special and that it was his destiny to be king. They had never told him there was already a king and that it was a journey he would face alone. What was he to do? How would he know?
Many seasons passed quickly. Marimba and Josak taught Imanu, and he obeyed. He grew wise and strong. While he didn’t have many friends, the other cubs learned to respect him and left him to his own.
One evening, as the sun was setting in the western sky, Imanu sat pondering his destiny. He now believed he would be king, not because Marimba and Josak told him but because in his heart he knew it was the truth. Now the question was, how did he fulfill it?
Then suddenly, as though he’d heard someone speak to him, he knew what he had to do.
He found Marimba and Josak preparing for the evening meal.
“You’re just in time for dinner, son.” Marimba smiled at him fondly. He had been such a wonderful son.
“I’m not hungry, Mother.”
She looked at him, curiously. It wasn’t like him not to eat.
“In something troubling you, son?” Josak voiced what both of them were thinking.
Imanu smiled and shook his head. “I’m leaving.”
“What?” The alarm in Marimba’s voice was clear.
“Don’t worry, Mother. This is something I have to do.”
“What do you mean?”
“I must travel to the center of the jungle — to the tree of knowledge.”
“Please. Don’t’ be afraid. I know what I’m doing.”
Josak brushed Marimba to comfort her. “Imanu is wise, Marimba. We’ve taught him all we can. Now it’s time for him to follow his destiny on his own. We must trust his judgment.”
She nodded. As much as she didn’t want to admit it, she knew he was right. “All right, son. If this is what you believe you must do, I trust you.”
“Thank you both. You have been the best parents anyone could ever hope to have. I will return soon, you’ll see.”
“Be watchful. Guard yourself and return to us soon.”
“I will be back as soon as I can.” Imanu hugged them and set off into the jungle determined to find the tree of knowledge.
It was growing dark, but even in the darkness the devastation of the jungle was over whelming. Under Imanu’ feet, the dry leaves cracked while the trees looked shriveled. His plan was to follow the river to the center of the jungle, as legend had it that it’s beginning was there, at the tree of knowledge. Now the river was nothing more than a dry bed, but it would serve as a guide all the same.
He had traveled a long way, seemingly for hours, and with no food. Imanu began to grow weary. There was no way to tell how far it was to the center of the jungle nor how long it would take to get there.
“Perhaps if I just rest awhile,” he thought, and laid down.
There was a noise in the brush and he started. Had he fallen asleep? How long had he been there?
Out of the brush appeared three amazing creatures. The first was a lion who glittered like gold, with a regal manner. Second was the most beautiful lioness Imanu had ever seen. Her eyes were like pools of deep green and her coat was layered in something that looked like diamonds. The third lion looked much like Imanu himself, except his shiny, black mane was straight and his expansive chest strong and powerful. He wore a magnificent shimmering crown of aqua, purple and crimson on his head.
“Who are you?” Imanu asked.
“I am Eykhan,” the first answered, in a voice that sounded much younger than he appeared.
The lioness purred in soft, soothing tones. “I am Fleishan.”
“And I, “ the third boomed in aloud, commanding manner, “am Prydan.”
“What do you want with me?”
“We are here,” the lioness purred, brushing against him in a most familiar way, “to guide you in fulfilling your destiny.”
“What do you know of my destiny?”
“Much more than you might think,” Prydan boomed.
“Isn’t it true you are to be king?” Eykhan asked.
Imanu was stunned. “How did you know that?”
“We know,” Prydan said, smugly.
“Yes. We’ve been watching you since you were just a cub.” Eykhan added.
“How is that possible? I’ve never seen you before.”
“Nevertheless,” Fleishan purred. “We’ve seen you.”
“How are you going to help me?” Imanu asked.
“Come with me,” Eykhan said, and started into the jungle.
Imanu hesitated, looking at the other two.
“Go!” Prydan commanded.
A short way into the jungle, Eykhan stopped near a veil of vines. From behind it came the sound of rushing water, but Imanu knew that could not be possible for the river was dried up.
Yet when Eykhan pulled back the veil, there was the most beautiful waterfall Imanu had ever seen. It flowed into a mighty river, surrounded by lush greenery, where herds fed and strong young animals played.
“What is this place?” Imanu asked, dumbfounded.
“This, my dear king,” Eykhan whined. “is your kingdom. Don’t you like it?”
“Of course. But it doesn’t look like my home. Do the other herds know about this place?”
Eykhan laughed, a whiny, wheeling laugh. “When you are king of this place, you may bring them here.”
“But why hasn’t anyone brought them here before?”
“My boy, a king can only lead people where he himself has been. You must think of yourself first, then you can help others.”
“But Marimba and Josak have always taught me that a great king never thinks of himself first, but of the people he has rule over.”
“You have listened well. This kingdom can be yours and you can bring others to it. Or, you can return to what you know. You must choose.” With that Eykhan disappeared.
Imanu looked back at the waterfall, the greenery and the healthy herds. It was so beautiful. Then from behind, he heard purring. He turned to see Fleishan approaching.
“Isn’t it lovely?” She cooed.
“Yes, it is that.”
“We could rule it together. It is my destiny to be your queen.” She purred.
“You don’t even know me.” As he looked into her vivid, green eyes, he felt drawn there. Try as he might, he couldn’t seem to look away.
“Do you think I’m beautiful?”
“Yes,” he answered weakly.
“Wouldn’t you like to be my mate?”
He felt strange but he thought he would like very much to be her mate. What a queen she would make, with her beautiful eyes and her gorgeous coat! Her voice was so soothing, like honey. Suddenly, he thought of Marimba. She was neither beautiful, in the traditional way, nor had such a hypnotic voice but she was kind, faithful and wise. It seemed to Imanu, now, that she was the most beautiful lioness he knew and when he looked at Fleishan, she seemed dull in comparison.
“What do you say?” She purred. “Shall we rule this kingdom together?”
Imanu shook his head. “No, you are not my idea of a queen,”
In the blink of an eye, Fleishan’s whole demeanor changed. Her eyes became cold, her coat dull. The pleasing voice hissed. “You are a fool!’ Then she too, disappeared.
“Don’t listen to her,” came the booming voice of Prydan.
Imanu turned, as he strode up beside him.
“I can see that you are very wise indeed. You will make a very good king.”
It was the strangest thing, Imanu thought, as he watched Prydan. Looking at him was like peering into the pale glass of the streams back home. They could nearly have been twins. “Do you really think so?”
“Without a doubt. No foolery for you. You will judge the herds wisely and return prosperity to the jungle.”
His words puzzled Imanu. While they sounded good, there was something insincere about them.
Prydan continued. “You deserve only the finest queen. But first, you must bring your people to this place.”
“What do you mean?”
“You will have your choice of the finest lionesses in the jungle when you are king. Bring the herds here, show them what you have found. They will be so grateful, so impressed with your wits. They will follow you anywhere you want them to go. All will see that you are the greatest king ever to take the throne. You will be hailed and adored by all.”
It would certainly be a change. All the lions that had laughed at him and now ignored him would see just how smart he was. They would bow down to him as the great king he knew himself be. He could see himself reigning, with a crown much like the one Prydan now wore. All the lionesses who now had no time for him would be competing for the chance to be his queen. Imanu smiled.
Prydan laughed reassuringly. “Ahhh, you can see it is your destiny.”
Just then, Imanu heard the words that Josak had spoken to him over and over as though He was there. “Imanu, a good king doesn’t seek to exalt himself. A good king puts the needs of the people first. Being selfish and self-seeking only causes poverty for all those around you and will make you miserable in yourself. That is exactly what Shaekhan has done.” Now Imanu understood those words in a way he never had before.
“Are you ready, then to take the throne?” Prydan asked.
“I will take the throne.” Imanu answered. “But not the one you offer. Being king is not for my own selfish gain. It is to help those I am privileged to be king over.”
With a deafening roar, Prydan disappeared, as did the waterfall, the river and the herds. The bright glow of the moon illuminated a small pool of clear water which seemed to flow from beneath the most unusual tree Imanu had ever seen. Its fruit was a reddish gold and looked like a cross between an apple and a pear.
In his heart, Imanu knew this to be the tree of knowledge. He also knew that he could now eat of its fruit the way it was intended to be eaten. Carefully crossing the pool, he plucked a piece of the fruit and bit into it. The taste was sweet and succulent. When he had finished it, he knew that he now possessed all he needed to be the king he was destined to be.
When Imanu awoke in the morning, he noticed something different. While the tree looked the same, with its pear-apple fruit, the pool beneath it seemed changed. It now appeared to flow out and around the bend. He heard what seemed to be the sound of rushing water, so he followed it. When he rounded the bend, he stopped short as the level ground suddenly ended. To his left, the stream flowed over the side of a cliff, becoming a small waterfall. He looked over the edge and to his astonishment, there was a valley beneath. It surrounded a large lake of water and was alive and green, but he noticed there were no animals in sight.
Suddenly, he knew what he had to do. He had passed the test Adani had failed. Now it was his destiny to bring the herds to this beautiful place, where they would grow and prosper. With more determination than he had ever had, Imanu started home.
Somehow, the journey home didn’t seem as long. Imanu arrived just before nightfall. He found Marimba and Josak once again preparing for the evening meal.
“My son!” Marimba exclaimed.
“It’s good to have you home.” Josak said.
“I’m glad to be home.”
Both the older lions noticed the change in him. He looked more mature somehow and carried himself with a great deal more confidence, remarkable in light of the short time he’d been gone.
“Did you find the tree?” Josak asked.
Marimba looked anxious. Was it possible he had eaten of the tree and survived? “What happened?”
“I can’t talk a great deal now, Mother. There is still one part of the journey left to fulfill.”
“What is it, son?”
“I must face, Shaekhan.”
“Shaekhan? But why?”
“He is a false king. He must be defeated.”
“I can’t tell you that. However , you must trust me. I will reign as king. Don’t forget, no matter what happens.”
“You’re not speaking clearly, son. What are you going to do?”
“Mother, I love you. I can’t speak of it now. You’ll just have to trust me.”
Marimba nodded. She knew nothing would deter him. They had done their part. He was grown, wise and strong and now with a confidence that would bear no argument. Fulfilling his destiny was up to him now.
Shaekhan was lazing about on a large, rocky cliff, surrounded by lionesses and fawning servants when Imanu approached. One of the servants noticed him and shouted, “What business do you have here? The king doesn’t wish to be disturbed.”
Imanu waited a moment without answering, until Shaekhan sat up and took notice. He roared. “I know who you are. You are that upstart who claims he would be king. What do you want here?”
“You are a fake and a usurper. Your ancestors took the throne by trickery. Step down.”
Shaekhan laughed loudly. “Who do you think you are? I am the rightful king and no young cub with big ideas will change that.”
“Your reign is over, Shaekhan.”
“We’ll see about that.”
By now, a crowd had gathered, Marimba and Josak among them. All were astonished, as no one had ever dared to challenge Shaekhan before.
“What do you think, citizens of the jungle?” Shaekhan asked mockingly. “Do you want this young upstart, this curly-headed lion, as your king?”
Some of the cubs who had taunted Imanu, stood nearby. One shouted, “We’ll have no king but the true king? Long live Shaekhan!”
The rest of the crowd joined in. “Long live Shaekhan!”
Marimba and Josak were grieved. “What was Imanu doing? Why didn’t he answer?”
Shaekhan pranced on the rock above them. “What shall we do with this so called king then?”
“Kill him!” They shouted. “Kill him!”
“Very well.” Shaekhan smiled a sinister smile. “Kill him!”
A group of lionesses surrounded Imanu. They clawed at him, but he said not a word nor lifted a paw against them, so that the crowd marveled. Then they dragged him to a nearby cliff and threw him over the edge.
Marimba cried loudly. Why hadn’t Imanu fought back? All their dreams, years of teaching, was it all in vain?
She and Josak went back to their cave, where they grieved for the loss of their cub. Such hopes they’d had for him! Now it looked as though Shaekhan had won forever. There were no more rightful heirs to the throne. It appeared that all hope was lost.
In the ravine, Imanu started. He didn’t recognize where he was but he knew he was badly hurt. It was very dark and he couldn’t move. Nearby, there was a rustling noise and once again, three creatures came out.
Eykhan, Fleishan and Prydan circled him, hissing. They were not nearly so majestic now. Instead of glittering like gold, Eykhan looked caked with mud. Fleishan’s eyes were red and her diamond coat had faded to something like fish scales. Prydan’s mane was matted and he looked sickly and weak. There was no regal crown on his head now.
Imanu marveled that he even recognized them, but somehow, he knew. “What do you want?”
They laughed in unison.
Eykhan derided him. “Never think of yourself first. Where has that gotten you?”
“We could have ruled together.” Fleishan hissed. “Now, you’ll never rule at all.”
“Yes, look at the mighty king. You were too good, too noble to reign as we offered you. Who will save you now?”
Suddenly, there arose a sound as of a rushing mighty wind. It swirled and gusted, surrounding the three tormentors. They shrieked in fear as it lifted them from the ground spinning them around like a cyclone until they disappeared.
Next, it swirled around Imanu. Instead of lifting him into the air, it set him on his feet. He felt his strength return and now he could move. In it, he recognized what he had always had in his heart and it filled him with joy.
When Imanu approached the rocks this time, the servants, instead of boldly challenging him, fell to the ground in amazement.
“S-s-sire,” one stuttered.
“What is it, you fool? Speak up!”
The lackey couldn’t say anything more but just pointed at Imanu.
Shaekhan sat up. His eyes grew wide and his jaw dropped open. “You’re supposed to be dead.”
Imanu roared loudly. He leapt onto the rocks, scattering Shaekhan’s lackeys. Shaekhan cowered in the corner.
Once again, a crowd gathered. There was much whispering and commotion as all wondered at the return of Imanu. After all, no lion could survive a fall into the ravine.
Marimba wept for joy and Josak marveled.
“Wh-what are you going to do?” Shaekhan whimpered.
“Step down,” Imanu commanded.
Shaekhan slinked down the rocks to the front of the crowd.
There were gasps and astonished exchanges from all present.
Imanu turned to the crowd. “I am rightful heir to the throne but I will not rule by force or by trickery. All those who believe, come with me. There is a valley not far from here with plenty of food and water. As your king, I will take you there but you must follow me.”
“What kind of ridiculous talk is this?” Shaekhan mocked, though weakly. “There is no food or water in any great supply anywhere in the jungle. If there was, I would have found it. Don’t follow this impostor!”
“I will leave now. Those who believe may follow. The choice is yours.” Imanu leapt off the rock and started into the jungle.
Many followed him, including Marimba and Josak. Sadly, though, many did not.